In reading some articles about independent films getting noticed, it's quickly becoming clear that doing so, getting picked up and distributed, is becoming more and more difficult, largely because Hollywood has become so much more "conglomerated" over the past two decades. (Ah, The Hard C's of Reality... Conformity, Conglomeration, Consumerism...) Marketing costs are almost as important--if not more so--as production costs for films, and there are no real shortcuts to marketing. None that will get you sold.
At least not yet.
A lot of people hail the Internet as the savior for film distribution, but the problem is, you can't make money by sitting your feature-length film on a website and allowing people to download it. In fact, that would cost a ton of money for bandwidth. The success of Internet-aided distribution will require a whole new business model.
What if an independent film company acted like an indie rock group? Street teams, audio samples, and other freebies on their website, and so forth... That works well for bands because the visitors know they can't replace the best part of it--seeing the band in concert. Well, how can we apply that to film?
Shorts. Very, very short short films. I will call them "two dollar hookers", because they should cost no more than $2 per production (excluding camera, tapes, and editing equipment, which can be reused), they will "hook" visitors with very interesting or profound messages or images, and we'll ask those who like them to donate on $2 increments. We're talking films that will be about five minutes in length, will feature the filmmakers, family, and friends (and eventually, street team members!) in place of contracted actors... Films rich in theme and cinematics, despite the short running time and low production values.
What's the point in doing this? To fight the system! (Ok, this time without sounding like a maniac...) Filmmakers, even independent filmmakers, have fallen into the Hollywood paradigm, i.e. a film must be between 90 and 120 minutes, should have professional lighting, sound design, etc. By striving to compete with Hollywood production values despite shoestring budgets, I believe indies have stifled their creativity and, moreso, their stability and longevity. Even short filmmakers seem to be trapped in a "Sundance channel" paradigm, thinking their films must be 20-30 minutes long and focus around some silly situational irony.
Our "two dollar hooker" films will be perfectly adapted to generating local and online interest for our production company. They will be extremely inexpensive to produce, extremely inexpensive to publish online, and won't be a major sacrifice to internet piracy and availability as it would be to electronically distribute a feature-length or even a 30-minute short film.
I'm pretty excited about this idea now that I've thought of it, even though it's not exactly "my thing" to make shorts. (I do prefer some form of dramatic structure, which is hard to provide in a short film.) I think it will really encourage creativity on my behalf as a filmmaker, and will require the audience to use its imagination for interpretation, something films don't do enough of. Plus, I can have some fun with it, take some risks, and make a few stinkers.